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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Get Out 2017 * * * Stars

Get OutDirector: Jordan Peele
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Allison Williams, Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener

When I think of the words "get out", I instantly revert back to that part in The Amityville Horror where a supernatural voice yells violently at the late Rod Steiger. Cut to 2017 and I'm now reminded of a movie with the same title as those infamous words.

Get Out (my latest review) is directed by Jordan Peele. He's actually a comedic actor by trade. His debut as a filmmaker, happens to be original in scope. Now when I mean original, that's probably because I haven't seen 1975's The Stepford Wives yet. Supposedly, a few critics and Peele himself, saw "Wives" as an inspiration for Get Out. No matter. This vehicle despite having a lack of jump scares, still has enough juice to moderately give you the creeps.

Premiering at Sundance Film Festival (via January of this year), harboring a budget of 4.5 million (most of it was spent on eye drops, ha), and dealing with themes of race, religion, and the occult, Get Out projects itself like a fright fest from the late 1970's or early 1980's. This is evident even though the flick clearly takes place in present day. There's a scene where a cuckoo family appears on an old television set (in an in-house commercial no less). Then, you get some nostalgic, hair-raising music from Michael Abels (he mostly does orchestra works). Finally, there's a hypnotism segment in which the main trouper "sinks into the floor" and is rendered paralyzed.

Visually and audibly, Get Out is pretty evocative. Jordan Peele must have been using a special lens because he captures cinematic images that feel so 40 years ago.

Image result for Get out 2017 movie scenesAt 103 brief minutes, Get Out starts as a slow burn only to pick up variable speed. Its last act is bloody and sadly, it's a little anti-climatic. Yeah the bad guys (and girls) get theirs but I wanted more of a deadening schism between a Twilight Zone parentage and their helpless prey. The story is as follows: Photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (future star in the making Allison Williams), are visiting Rose's parents at their lavish estate (Get Out was shot in various places in Alabama). Washington is African American. Armitage is Caucasian. What Chris doesn't know is that Rose's mom and pops plan on using pseudo-immortality on him. It's all a setup. They are respectively, neurosurgeons and hypnotists and they want to plant the brain of their frail friend into his body. This will render Chris a vegetable and a person unable to function in their brought upon, comatose state.

All in all, Get Out has a blatant twist, some mild comic relief from Washington's best bud (Lil Rel Howery as Rod), and features the song, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in a crowning moment towards the film's conclusion. Man, you won't look at Dirty Dancing the same way again (or bingo cards either but that's another story). In truth, this is a nicely plotted, well crafted horror mystery that could've used some grander character development. Talk about a cinematic contradiction. Whatever. I'll give Get Out a pass for Peele's keen eye behind the camera. Rating: 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fist Fight 2017 * 1/2 Stars

Fist FightDirector: Richie Keen
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan

Do you remember 1987's Three O'Clock High? I do. It was on cable a lot. Filmed at Ogden High School (in Ogden, Utah), "High" was about two high schoolers (a bully and a nibish) having a violent fight in said school's parking lot. They came ready with brass knuckles, a huge crowd watching, and surrounding cars as a veritable boxing ring. Three O'Clock High was decent entertainment. It wasn't an Academy Award winner. It wasn't a critical darling. It was just a 101-minute time spacer. Who knew that something similar would be made thirty years later. I didn't.

Anyway, Fist Fight (my latest review) has "High's" blueprint but Father Time makes it a slightly different animal. First off, "Fight" is R-rated and includes drug use, masturbation, penis jokes, and manifest F-bombs. Three O'Clock High on the other hand, is PG-13 with a little humor and some actual drama. "High" is more darkly comedic than anything else. Second, Fist Fight has its end-of-school showdown occurring between two teachers. "High" on the other hand, has two opposite students punching each other to a bloody pulp. Third, "Fight" has the advantage of social media. Thirty years ago in Three O'Clock High, there weren't cell phones, YouTube, Facebook, or hashtags to let people know about the big fight after the final period bell. In Fist Fight, the bloodied up brawl between its combatant characters, ends up on national news. I guess the whole country got to see some of the footage. Heck, I'm not surprised.

Now let's not beat around the bush. You're wondering if I would recommend Fist Fight. Well my answer is a firm no. This is a so-called comedy that is mean-spirited, rude, crude, and lewd. And in truth, no one on screen resembles the actions of any realistic human being. The worst part is that "Fight" with its envelope-pushing level of tactlessness, contains very few laughs. Yeah I chuckled once or twice but that was during a scene where some guy's daughter sings Big Sean's "I Don't F**k with You" at a local talent show. Even then, I felt a little guilty by my actions.

Image result for fist fight movie scenesProtagonist's daughters and minimal guffaws aside, "Fight" is a movie that lives and breathes in its own vacuum. It takes place in a high school environment where students treat the faculty like garbage and get away with it (the inmates basically run the asylum). Also, the principal is bent on firing every departmental teacher without any true reason whatsoever. The fantasy-like plot has nice guy teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day), getting short-tempered teacher Rod Strickland (Ice Cube) fired for taking an ax to one of his student's desks. Angry and fumed, Strickland challenges Campbell to a "fist fight" after school. He proclaims Campbell to get his butt whooped and says quote unquote, "snitches get stitches".

Anyhow, despite my eventual one and a half star rating for Fist Fight, I will say that Ice Cube and Day are perfectly cast for their roles. Charlie Day is basically playing the same wheezily trouper from his Horrible Bosses flicks. His high-pitched voice and improvisation overload however, become grating after a while. As for Ice Cube, well a lot of critics say that he "growls" when he acts. This is true in "Fight". Plus, Cube's every facial expression looks like an overwrought scowl.

Overall, Fist Fight ends with outtakes that are just as lousy as the film itself. I don't know why filmmakers insist on using these tropes. They are tired and feel like something better suited for 10 years ago. It's the same old BS. Actor messes up a scene, everyone laughs and giggles, actor tries different improvisational tactics to complete the scene. Rinse, rinse, repeat. Rating: 1 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Thursday, February 16, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 2017 * * * 1/2 Stars

John Wick: Chapter 2Director: Chad Stahelski
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne

His name is Johnathan "John" Wick and yup, he's back! John Wick: Chapter 2 (my latest review) is a movie that lives in a world all its own. It's that underground world filled with lustrous images, hidden crime, and 50's-style telephone operators. "Chapter 2" also cements Keanu Reeves as one of the best action stars on the planet. He's up there with Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington and my personal favorite, Mel Gibson. I remember seeing "The One" in 1991's Point Break and wondering if he could take on the role of action hero and veritable butt kicker. I haven't wondered for some time for he's done it in a steadily manner over the past 26 years.

So OK, Keanu's martial arts moves in The Matrix were a little stiff. And yes, he's not exactly the acting caliber of Daniel Day-Lewis. No matter. It's a whole new spiel now. Reeves using minimal dialogue and beholding a overly seething screen presence, is almost synonymous with intimidating dudes you don't wanna mess with. In "Chapter 2" he dons a slick suit and spotty beard, loads and reloads a P30 faster than a jack rabbit, and eliminates gun-toting baddies like a champ. His John Wick: Chapter 2 is an exercise in style and its violence is like ballet, poetry, or birds in flight. Oh yeah, this "wick" burns through and through.

Image result for john wick chapter 2 movie scenesNow in 2014, I did give the first John Wick a mixed review. I said that it didn't add anything fresh to the action thriller genre. With John Wick: Chapter 2, I almost went the same route until I viewed "Chapter 2's" final shootout sequence. Heck, I don't know director Chad Stahelski from Adam but I'm pretty sure he paid homage to Bruce Lee and Lee's mirror fight scene from Enter the Dragon. Stahelski's interpretation of the last ten minutes of "Chapter 2", is a real humdinger. It single-handedly makes for a superior sequel which is a rare thing.

As for John Wick: Chapter 2's diegesis, well it's different from what transpired in the original John Wick. This time, it's not about Keanu's trouper getting revenge on some Russian gangsters who kill his dog and take his kick ass ride (a Boss 429 Mustang). And this time, the proceedings are even more violent, more bloody, and more smash-mouth. "Chapter 2's" story involves Jonathan being coerced back into the hitman life. First, he has to assassinate an Italian crime lord's sister and then, Wick has to dodge every other professional killer because he's got a $7 million dollar contract on his head. Be on the lookout for more tantalizing subtitles (from the first installment) and Stahelski's standard and forthright camerawork. He may be the antithetical Paul Greengrass. Also, look for a couple of scenes where Keanu Reeves is reunited with his wise old co-star from The Matrix Trilogy (Mr. Laurence Fishburne). Aw, it feels so good.

Image result for john wick chapter 2 movie scenesAll in all, I honestly don't think plot matters in glitzy, neo-noir flicks such as John Wick: Chapter 2. It's more about the bullets flying, the techno music in the background, the hand-to-hand combat, and director Chad Stahelski using white background colors (in a subway station) to show an audience what real blood spattering looks like. As "Chapter 2" concludes, the film clearly leaves the door open for a third go-around. Keanu's Wick quips in future tense, "whoever comes, I'll kill them all." Dang, I can't wait. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Split 2016 * * * 1/2 Stars

SplitDirector: M. Night Shyamalan
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Becky Buckley

M. Night Shyamalan directed The Sixth Sense. To this day, that film still creeps me the heck out. It has taken seventeen years for Night to make my psyche go all frazzled again. Hence, I give you 2016's Split (my latest review).

Now the oddest thing about Split, is that it doesn't feel like India's favorite son was even behind the camera. Shyamalan relies on the personalities of other directors (just like Split's main lead actor, ha). And the only thing similar is that his flick takes place in Philadelphia (Shyamalan's hometown and go-to setting). Was there some Dan Trachtenberg or Sam Raimi influence involved? Oh for sure. Nevertheless, Split is traumatizing, upsetting, and unsettling. M. Night uses a handful of close-ups, effective flashbacks, and the absence of a blatant surprise twist to enhance his vision. Reluctantly, he gives his characters a few moments of screen time to breathe. Then his film puts them through torrid, psychological hell.

Image result for Split movie scenesSplit isn't ghostly scary or even demon scary. It's more on the tripped out, cognitive tip. Without a happy ending or any kind of loosening resolve, this film caused me to leave the theater shaken. Heck, my pulse felt totally out of order. Granted, I'm not giving Split a favorable rating for its entertainment value. I recommending it for how it affected me and how it gave me a corresponding feeling when I saw 2014's Tusk. Hopelessness, raw fear, despair, gnawing demoralization. M. Night is back. Yup, he's back with a spurred vengeance baby!

Anyway, Split is about a messed up individual, a stifling son of a bitch. Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) is said individual and he has 23 personalities ("23" is a screwed up number to begin with). He kidnaps three young females and holds them captive below the famed, Philadelphia, PA Zoo. In a candid interview, McAvoy said that he only channeled 9 of the 23 weirdos throughout Split's 117-minute running time. No matter. His performance here is towering and startlingly good. You forget that a trouper is actually inhabiting this role. For the most part, you hold on to the fact that this is a real fracked person. As for McAvoy's co-stars (Anna Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula), well they convey a realistic level of heightened distress. Douglas Aibel's casting of these young, unknown thespians is right on. I would put them in another horror conundrum any day. Believe it.

Overall, Split with its claustrophobia, its kind of movement for a sequel, and its sense of sunlight absence, is destined to become a classic. It's M. Night Shyamalan's way of giving the middle finger to all the critics who have ribbed him over the past 10-12 years. Oh and by the way, look for the Bruce Willis cameo at the end. Dang, it's been awhile since I've seen old Brucie in an actual, mainstream movie. Also, be on the lookout for Betty Buckley as Crumb's sympathetic psychologist. She was Miss Collins from 1976's infamous Carrie. Welcome back Betty. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Monster 2016 * * Stars

The MonsterDirector: Bryan Bertino
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Scott Speedman, Ella Ballentine

I'm starting to get really annoyed by the use of flashbacks in film. 2016's The Monster (my latest review) has them in the form of an alcoholic mother battling with her vexing daughter. Do said flashbacks form an adequate background story for "Monster?" Somewhat. Am I to a degree, still annoyed? Oh for sure.

I'm also starting to get exasperated by the use of scary movie cliches. The Monster has them by way of a car stalling after hitting an animal, heavy rain that won't stop, and the protagonists being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Does "Monster's" director (Bryan Bertino) film these scenes admirably and with a sense of style? Sort of. Am I again, still exasperated? Yup.

Anyway, The Monster which stars Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine, clocks in at just under eighty-five minutes (ninety-one if you count the credits). Watching it, I realized that its budget is relatively low. That's a good thing because "Monster's" box office take is currently a paltry $62,953. Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) is a manageable filmmaker but he shoots "Monster's" kill sequences in such heavy darkness. It's hard to tell what's really going on. Heck, I could've used some night-vision goggles if you know what I mean.

Now The Monster is indeed a flick about a monster. This slimy savage has long sharp teeth, a hunchback disposition, and a standard growl. It appears similar to the mucky gremlin from Twilight Zone: The Movie, the aliens from Aliens, or the basement demon from 1983's Amityville 3-D. It terrorizes Kazan and Ballentine's characters yet doesn't show up till forty-five minutes in. The effect I guess, is to evoke early Ridley Scott, Spielberg's method with Jaws, or something Hitchcockian. Sadly, it's all a bit underwhelming.

Questions I asked myself during The Monster: Is this ugly beast who lives in a Canadian forest, a product of chemical waste disposal? Maybe. Was it dropped by a spacecraft into the Earth's banal atmosphere? Sure, why not. Finally, did it emerge from a meteorite all angry and bloodthirsty? I guess so. Truthfully, I don't think an audience member will ever know. Furthermore, I don't think the filmmakers themselves even know. I guess that concept wasn't discussed during the production meetings.

Image result for the monster 2016 movie scenesIn veracity, I didn't feel scared or frightened while viewing The Monster. It has no real jolts and or jump back moments. That's probably because I've seen all these types of creature features many times over.

The raw acting by Ballentine and Kazan helps a little but their troupers are portrayed in such a downtrodden way. Ella Ballentine plays Lizzy and basically she is reprising her role from Standoff (another 2016 release). She's the sad and solemn girl who gets neglected and suffers through a crappy childhood. Zoe Kazan channels Kathy, her tattooed, lower-class mother. Startlingly, Kazan looks more like Ballentine's big sister than her emotionally distraught mommy. The two of them could come off as heroines but they more or less project a couple of people destined to be on The Jerry Springer Show. Ouch.

In conclusion, The Monster is a rental that doesn't make any quantum leap in the horror genre. It's not deficient but you'd be better off checking out Charlize Theron's 2003 crime drama of virtually the same name. "Monster's" boisterous rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Arsenal 2017 * 1/2 Stars

ArsenalDirector: Steven C. Miller
Year: 2017
Rated R
Rating: * 1/2 Stars
Cast: John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, Adrian Grenier

2017's Arsenal is my latest review. At just over an hour and a half, it feels irrelevant and contains blackish cinematography. More importantly, it's a turgid, bloody mess.

Arsenal stars Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. These are two guys you rarely see in commercial movies anymore. They wear sunglasses the whole time, perhaps to indicate that they're embarrassed to be on screen. I don't blame them. Arsenal ain't no surprise sequel to Con Air people.

Arsenal also stars Adrian Grenier. Like in his TV show Entourage, Grenier's trouper takes care of, and/or succeeds his older brother. Grenier at age 40, literally looks like he's in college. Seriously, what's that dude's secret?

Image result for Arsenal movie scenesFinally, Steven C. Miller is Arsenal's schlock director. As a D-list monger, he has a routine. His movies mostly have one word titles, his movie posters all have the same Sicario-like resemblance (look at Extraction, Arsenal, and Marauders), and he lets other, Hollywood aspirates write his scripts for him. The only thing missing from Miller's latest is paycheck happy, Bruce Willis. Oh wait, Willis is set to appear in Miller's upcoming First Kill. Hmm, I can't wait for that one.

In regards to watching Arsenal, you can tell that Steve Miller has a real hard-on for sensationalized violence. He's "The Joker" or just a joke (subtle musical reference for ya). His film may be listed as a crime thriller but it comes off as nasty horror fare. There's jilted camerawork, slow-motion images of bullets, and slow-motion depictions of overdone bloodletting. Characters endure beatings and torture so outlandish, you'd think they'd land in a coma (but they don't). It's all so perverse and utterly ridiculous.

Image result for Arsenal movie scenes
The plot, which includes a long-winded flashback between young bros, is about kidnapping, drugs, mob ties, and southern chic (Mississippi to be exact).

Arsenal has Nic Cage playing a hammy crime boss named Eddie King (that sounds original... not!). He looks like a 1960's relic with parted mop top and Marlboro mustache in tow. Meanwhile, Jonathon Schaech channels Mikey Lindel, the dude King takes hostage. Schaech with unrecognizable scruff and standoffish demeanor, comes off as the poor man's Jon Hamm (ha ha). Adrian Grenier (mentioned earlier) takes on the role of JP, a successful business owner who turns cutthroat trying to save Mikey from the clutches of Eddie. Lastly, John Cusack sort of phones it in as blowy confidant and dirty detective Sal. Johnny boy was probably too busy worrying about his Chicago Cubs (and their inevitable World Series title) to push his performance. There's a shocker.

In conclusion, I'm not sure why this movie is titled Arsenal. I guess it's because there are some guns involved. How convenient. How avant-garde. Oh and how the heck did I get duped into paying $7.99 to watch this thing. Ugh! Rating: 1 and a half stars.    

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Come and Find Me 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Zack Whedon
Year: 2016
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Aaron Paul, Annabelle Wallis, Garret Dillahunt

Come and Find Me is my latest review. At 112 minutes, it feels like part hard drama and part backtracking thriller.

The cast of "Find Me" is unknown with Aaron Paul being the only notable trouper. I remember seeing a trailer for Need for Speed and thinking that he was set for super stardom. Cut to three years later and Paul is still kind of flying under the radar. Sad to say, Come and Find Me is not the type of flick that will jump start his A-list status into second gear. He's the scruffy everyman, the actor who reacts. I can't put my finger on it but he's still a tad miscast.

Aaron's character here is Dave, a graphic designer. Dave gets put through the ringer trying to find his missing girlfriend (Claire played by Annabelle Wallis). Bruised, battered, and hit over the head, Paul's Dave goes treading where he's mostly not wanted. He rides subways, takes bus rides, plays detective, and is clearly in for the year-long jaunt.

The opening scene of "Find Me" feels like 2004's Crash. It's the music, the cinematography, and the conviction of all things Paul Haggis that gave it away. After that, Come and Find Me becomes its own movie despite having a Mr. & Mrs. Smith vibe (without the whole "mister" part of course).

Image result for come and find me movie scenesIn terms of direction, well rookie Zack Whedon is anxiously behind the camera. He infuses way too many flashbacks (bygone sequences between Claire and Dave) and gives "Find Me" the notion of being a little too stylish. His intentions are good but at times, the whole film has an amateur hour feel. Oh and did I mention Whedon wrote "Find Me's" screenplay as well? It's customary and doesn't supply the bite he possessed when he penned a couple of episodes via TVs Southland. As for his setting, well it starts off as seedy and dirtied up LA. The proceedings then move to lush and leafy Vancouver, British Columbia.

Overall, Come and Find Me is not based on a book, an article, or a miniseries. It's about a girl who's a photog and leads a double life. She also knows how to use a firearm and may work for the government and/or the mob (spoiler). With a small budget and an Internet release, "Find Me" gets a mixed 2 and a half star rating. It's violent and perturbed with scenes of mild torture, glassy interrogations, and bullet-laden shootouts. See it if you feel bored or have those winter movie blues.

Written by Jesse Burleson